The last sentence in Rightful Resistance in Rural China, by O’Brien and Li, asks the question of whether rightful resistance can still make progress or if riots and revolution are the only viable answer. Of interest to me is whether the lessons learned from Hunan, Anhui, Hebei and other parts of rural China can be applied to social justice movements in the US.
A main dynamic described as able to gain traction is the contention between a faith in the Center – its ethics and/or capacities — and local government. Villagers level charges against local officials who are not upholding the promises of that Center. The Center may thereafter adjust its promises and tactics to better soothe/placate villager expectations, and/or scapegoat the local officials – depending on how you view the Center. In the US, there is no cut-and-dry Center vs. Local divide. Our branches of government and the span of jurisdiction vary between representatives, but there’s no clear chain of command. The structure of our system is built on contention between localities, parties and branches; presumably increasing improvement and inclusion.
The structure of the US government is also built on giving us just enough – the “sandwich strategy” – to keep the majority of us placated and reluctant to riot or revolt. While expectations of society and government performance vary between people, it should be said that a common measure used in media is choosing between lesser evils and comparing our lives to the commercial and historical chattel slavery of others.
Of most import is the difference in form: Rather than have a clearly identifiable Center whose promises we can expect, every promise has an expiration date and every promiser can justify a lack of delivery on the contention and conflict within their government body. For example, a congressman can promise to vote a certain way and advocate for certain causes, but never has to deliver because they can blame it on the other party, congressmen from other states or districts, etc; until they’re out of office. Even the president can attribute a lack of delivery to realities unforeseen, conflict with certain government departments or international politics. Our system is built to withstand protest and contention. Those who benefit to the detriment of others are empowered when we level contentions against other citizens and interest groups — and ignore their corruption or criminal acts. To summarize this meta-level interpretation, perhaps it would be better if we had a Center to whom we could allocate accountability and (even insincere) faith. A Center of responsibility and a clearer target for our discontent.
BLAH:we spend our time watching campaigns and putting our discontent into our electoral choices; expecting those representatives to change the norms of the Center. Yet, the realities which breed are discontent continue to exist; which we then blame on a lack of being able to achieve goals because of other parties and other people. There is no central authority here which can claim such absolute rule to whom we can level charges, identify clearly in order to juxtapose against corruption, or hold accountable. For ill or naught, the dispersed power means dispersed accountability. We commonly know that protest is unlikely to produce results unless it hits a critical mass. A few million people marching on the capitol breeds media attention; and criticism as much as support. We too garner support from elites, but the many voices are all shouting at each other instead of identifying specific problems. We too experience partial fulfillment of our needs in compromise; making the power of those who give it more solid.